Just over a year ago, I took what I thought was my first step towards more ethical banking: I opened a Nationwide current account. Before I opened the account, I made sure to ask about the internet banking. Did it work? Was it straightforward? Easy online banking was one of the few things I liked about my old HSBC account, and I wanted to be sure Nationwide would offer the same thing. I was assured that Nationwide’s internet banking was very easy to use and naively, I believed it.
I flicked through the leaflet called “Getting Started: Internet Banking – User guide” and found it all quite straightforward. Time to get started!
The site was painfully slow to load, but I tried not to let that mar my optimistic mood. Eventually, I was in.
The first thing the site wanted was my customer number. I thought this would be the same thing as my account number. It wasn’t.
Then the site wanted my “memorable data”. I assumed this was the “memorable word” I’d agreed with the branch staff as a password when I opened the account. It wasn’t.
It also wanted selected digits from something called a Passnumber, which had me foxed for a while.
The first hurdle, I think, is to work out that you need to register. The Getting Started leaflet assumes you’ve already registered, referring to “your sign on details letter” and “the date, place or name you chose when you registered”, but doesn’t make it clear that registering for Nationwide internet banking is not the same thing as opening a Nationwide account. (It also has zero information on how to register, which I suppose is to be expected if it’s starting from the assumption that you’ve already done so.)
Once you work out that you have to register, you’ll realise that your “customer number” is a separate number solely used for internet banking purposes. Nationwide sends it to you by post when you first register for internet banking, though you won’t necessarily make the connection between the “security details” it says it’s sending and the “customer number” the site is demanding. In other words, Nationwide’s internet banking sign-up process involves waiting for a snail-mail letter, without necessarily even realising that you’re waiting for it.
You’ll also then work out that the “memorable data” is actually three pieces of data you’re required to supply: a place, a name and a date. (The Passnumber is supplied by Nationwide and arrives with the rest of the “security details”.)
Once the snail-mail letter arrives, you can finally get your banking set up online. But I still struggled. I kept re-entering my details and being told they were wrong. I ended up locked out of my account and having to re-register. I thought the problem might be that several days had elapsed between thinking of my “memorable data” and being able to use it online; maybe I’d managed to forget it in that time. Cue another wait for a letter in the post. Rinse and repeat.
When I registered for the third time, I threw all data security advice to the winds and wrote down my memorable data, storing it in a text file on my computer with a hacker-baffling filename like “Nationwide Internet Banking Details” or similar. But when the letter came through the post again and I re-registered again, I still got it wrong and still ended up locked out. By this point, I’d had the current account for over a month and still hadn’t managed to use the internet banking. I missed paying a credit card bill and was charged a £12 late payment fee (which Nationwide waived after I threatened to close my account).
I did eventually manage to log in successfully, only to find myself locked out when I tried to repeat the feat the following day. I realised that the problem might be with the “memorable data” bit. The site doesn’t tell you which of the three pieces of data to enter, but I phoned up to ask and was told that any one of the three should work. Then I realised that I was only having problems when I chose to enter the date as my memorable data, rather than the name or the place. I subsequently found out (though I can’t remember how) that this was because the date can only be entered in a specific format: DDMMYYYY. (Naturally, there is no clue to this in the internet banking interface or in the cheery little leaflet.)
But my joy at this discovery was short-lived. The next time I tried to log in, I was faced with a demand to sign on using my card reader.
What card reader? There had been no mention of this when I opened the account and no mention in the leaflet. I rang Nationwide to ask what was going on. They said I should have already received one, but promised to send out another. In the meantime, I couldn’t use internet banking until this piece of plastic arrived by snail mail.
The card reader arrived, with a letter warning me that I could be charged for another replacement. (Of course, as far as I was concerned, it wasn’t a replacement because it was the first one I’d seen.) I followed the instructions for setting it up. It didn’t work. I rang Nationwide to complain. They assured me that the card reader was an optional measure for extra security and I could still log on to internet banking using my memorable details. I checked again and yes, “Sign on with memorable data” was given as an alternative option. I was grateful not to have to use the broken card reader.
I successfully signed in without the reader. The first thing I tried to do was to transfer money out of my current account into the HSBC joint account I share with my husband, so we could pay our (Nationwide) mortgage. But doing the transfer online was impossible without the card reader. I rang Nationwide and questioned their use of the word “optional”.
In the meantime, a second card reader arrived and I tried setting that up too. It didn’t work either. I tried googling for “Nationwide card reader” to see if there was some trick I was missing, only to witness a tide of rage from other confused and angry users. I opened my Nationwide current account in September 2010. By March 2011 I had managed to successfully sign in to internet banking perhaps two or three times, but I still hadn’t managed to actually do anything useful like transferring money from the account. I’d been given a Nationwide credit card when I opened the account, but I stopped using it because I got sick of paying the bills by cheque. I think I’ve made my point: Nationwide’s internet banking set-up is badly broken. Poor website usability, security theatre, unhelpful instructions and slow internal systems combine to prevent the user from, well, using it. But this lengthy rant is actually part one of a two-part story: my problems with internet banking meant that I took a long time to notice a bigger problem. See my next post.